David Levi Strauss
[Writer and critic, b. 1953, Junction City, Kansas, lives in New York.]
It’s not that we mistake photographs for reality; we prefer them to reality.
Photographic images used to be about the trace. Digital images are about the flow.
The first question must always be: Who is using this photograph, and to what end?
The attack on New York’s Twin Towers was the most photographed event in history. It was clearly planned and executed to maximize imaging. The delay between the two crashes seemed calculated to allow cameras—in what is arguably the most densely camera-rich environment in the world—to turn en masse toward the towers like a field of phototropic sunflowers.
Access to images and information has certainly increased, but has this led to better informed citizens? No. It has led to more docile, who spend more of their time collecting images and information… and less time on analysis, critical thinking, or real “socializing.”
One terrible truth about photographs is that they can only ever show us what happened, never what is happening or will happen. They are always about something that is gone, and so are in league with death.
The idea that the more transformed or ‘aestheticized’ an image is, the less ‘authentic’ or valuable it becomes, is one that needs to be seriously questioned. Why can’t beauty be a call to action?
Photographs by themselves certainly cannot tell ‘the whole truth’—they are only instants.